Cllr Kathleen Leslie is a member of Fife Council and a former teacher of Social Sciences and latterly Additional Support Needs. She continues to write about education in Scotland.  

Earlier this week Education Secretary, John Swinney, announced that the Scottish Government would be offering £20,000 bursaries to what he terms as “career changers” who wish to re-train as STEM teachers. Great idea, just a shame he doesn’t admit the idea was one the Scottish Conservatives had thought up last year.

Scotland has seen a dramatic fall in the number of teachers – there are 4,000 fewer than when the SNP came to government a decade ago. At the beginning of the school year in August, Scotland had 700 teacher vacancies.

Where are all the teachers?

Perhaps a decade of being subjected to an ongoing crisis in implementation of Curriculum for Excellence, National Qualifications that are still plagued by assessment criteria problems might explain their departure.

There has been a devastating drop in international ranking according to PISA scores. They have to operate in a system whereby those from the most affluent backgrounds are seven times more likely to achieve three “A” Higher passes than those from the most deprived backgrounds. 152,000 college places have been cut and where only one in every 10 children from a deprived area go to university as opposed to one in five in England.

Welcome to SNP Scotland. Education is apparently their number one priority and the First Minister wants to be judged on her record on education…

So what is this plan?

Scotland has a shortage of teachers which is subject wide.  However, in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) the shortage is even more acute – demand outstrips supply and couple this with the fact these sectors are growing and we have a problem. Unfortunately, due to a decade of part indifference – due to an absolute obsession with independence – and the chaotic implementation of a curriculum that has become skills heavy and knowledge deficient and we do not have an attractive prospect.

I cannot help but wonder how, in a country with a once globally renowned education system, we seem to have slipped in international standing and failed to successfully recruit and retain teachers.

Perhaps that could be linked to dissatisfaction at a government derived curriculum that was supposed to enhance creativity but has done the exact opposite? Or perhaps due to an inspectorate that is part of Education Scotland, a government quango? Or an overwrought bureaucratic system that sees the only teaching regulator in Scotland (the General Teaching Council for Scotland) have experienced teachers from other parts of the UK jump through hoops before they can even begin to satisfy their requirements – and then quite often places them on “provisional registration” (meaning they are at the bottom of the pay scale)?

This latest policy initiative by the SNP sets out to “attract” these career changers into teaching with a bursary for their training year of £20,000 – to make up for any income shortfall. Given that a huge number of technology and IT related jobs are in the private sector one can only wonder how this £20,000 will match to their current earning potential.

I also wonder if anyone has told them that the starting salary for a new teacher in Scotland is currently £22,416 – keeping in mind most “career changers” will have a mortgage and many will have young families to provide for.

Any moves to recruit more teachers and in particular subject shortage areas is very much welcomed. I would like to see assurances that these new teaching positions will be permanent. Rare it is today to find a school in Scotland which does not rely on a pool of supply staff, many working week after week and month after month with absolutely no contract. Training new teachers is a commitment not only to ensuring the young people of Scotland have a teacher in front of the classroom but also a commitment to the “career changers” – they are the ones who are about to take a leap into the unknown. On the finer details we await.

Curriculum, regulation, inspection – these should not all be proxy arms of the Scottish Government. There has to be independence of curriculum, independence of regulation, and independence of inspection, otherwise you have nothing more than something out of East European Socialism à la 1960s and failings can be swept aside as we march on with a “success story” – a story that has children leaving primary school without basic numeracy and literacy skills.

Secondly, STEM teachers are essential but extra recruitment of them must also come with a commitment to reinstate many of the 152,000 college places the SNP has cut. Not all young people want to or can afford to go to university (free tuition is only a small part of the huge outlay for four years at university) and a return to focus on more apprenticeships for young people has to also be part of any future education policy.

GIRFEC (that great buzzword/acronym of SNP education) is exactly that – getting it right for every child. Until we see a reversal of declining international scores, a reduction in the attainment gap, more college and vocational opportunities and a focus on reading, writing, spelling and numeracy, we are not getting it right.